Recently in southern New England there have been many snowstorms. When it snows people start to ask, “What about the sidewalks?” “What happens if you fall on a sidewalk?” “What happens if you fall on someone else’s property?” “What happens if it is a commercial premises?” “Who is responsible?”

The law was recently changed in Massachusetts.

According to Attorney Steven Sabra, “In 2010 there was a gigantic change in the law, because prior to the decision in a case by our Supreme Judicial Court in order to have a claim for an injury dealing with snow and ice you had to show an unnatural accumulation of snow and ice. The keyword being unnatural. That’s changed now as of 2010, and the standard is like it is in any case dealing with premises liability, which is more of a reasonable man standard or general negligence standard which talks about whether or not there is a duty of care or breach of duty of care.”

If you are the owner of a property then you would have the obligation to keep your property in a safe manor for people to come on your property, whether they are invitees, meaning postal workers, FedEx and UPS, and any people making deliveries, or people who are invited on the property by you, such as friends, relatives, neighbors, etc…..

For example, if you own a single family home then your responsibility is to take care of your property, whether it be the sidewalk, the stairs, etc. If it is a three family home, which there are a lot of in the downtown Fall River area and near Kennedy Park and Durfee High School, then it is the responsibility of the property owner, which is the landlord. The other example would be commercial property, which is really the same process. The commercial property owner is responsible for keeping their property safe. Whether it be snow and ice or any other defect.

Sometimes, however, on commercial property there is a shifting of burden. In other words, often by contract, a property owner will hire some other company to be responsible for the removal of snow and ice. That may not always be evident initially in cases where you bring a claim against a commercial property owner. If this is the case, then they would bring in the third party they say had the responsibility to remove snow and ice. You might get this information before filing a suit but often times it is after filing the suit that you find this out.

Then it comes down to a question of what are the terms of the contract. Often times in the contract between the commercial property owner and the company that hired them to take care of the snow and ice, there is what is called indemnification agreements. Meaning, if there is a claim brought up then the company hired to take care of the snow and ice is responsible to indemnify the commercial property owner. Sometimes it is even more complicated as far as who would actually pay for the attorney’s fees.

SLIPS AND FALLS: A PROPERTY OWNER’S DUTY OF CARE

An invitee is simply anyone who was invited to the property. This category of people were given permission to enter the premises. People who fall under this category are typically friends, family, and neighbors. Just as simply as it is to determine who is an invitee, it is also the landowner’s duty to keep the property safe and reasonably cared for, and therefore will be considered responsible for any slip-and-fall or personal injury on their property.

A licensee is someone who is not specifically given a direct invitation by the property owner but is still given a right to be on their property. An example of a licensee would be a postal worker, delivery worker, or salesman. If a licensee were to slip-and-fall on someone’s property there is a bit more of a gray area than with an invitee. One reason for this is because usually an invitee is inside their property whereas a licensee remains outdoors most of the time. Another reason is because sometimes salesmen are unwelcomed by the property owner, whereas a postal worker or delivery worker would be. Also, it may not be known to the property owner that a delivery worker or salesman is coming to their property thus not given notice to fix up their property.

For a licensee who had a personal injury accident on someone else’s property. It’s the property owner’s responsibility to know about poor conditions on their property of where the licensee was injured, and it has to be in a way in which a licensee is not likely to have been able to see it. Otherwise it is the fault of the licensee.

A trespasser is someone who is not authorized by the owner of the premises to be on their property. There is only one exception to which a landowner is responsible for the personal injury of a trespasser and that is if the trespasser is a child. Otherwise it is not the landowner’s responsibility.

It is the property owner’s responsibility to make sure their premises is safe by avoiding all foreseeable harmful risks to children.

If you or someone you know are hurt because of a slip and fall accident in Fall River, Somerset, Swansea, Westport, Taunton or New Bedford, contact the Law Offices of Sabra and Aspden to learn how we can help you get the compensation you deserve.